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Community gardens bringing local produce to the Mission Valley

Garden for Life
Posted at 5:20 PM, Aug 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-23 11:01:44-04

ST. IGNATIUS - One St. Ignatius community garden is cultivating soil and soul at the same time.

“Everything stems from the foundation of our soil,” Salish and Kootenai College (SKC) Research Assistant Ian McCryhew told MTN.

Fred Billings teaches a class called ‘Garden for Life’ where students spend an hour a week learning about connections to land and then apply those lessons in the garden.

“Basically what we’re doing out here is teaching a very efficient way of growing organic produce,” said Billings.

Claudia McCready has been enjoying the class, "I feel like it’s healing for the community.”

Billings says there are parallels between people and soil. “It eats, it breathes, it drinks, and it works. It’s alive and it’s alive with billions of micro-organisms.” He continued, “Whether it’s humility, sensitivity, creativity, decisiveness, or courage, all of those things are revealed in the garden."

Not only is there a garden in St. Ignatius, but there are six more around the reservation — from Arlee to Pablo to Elmo, the gardens support a circular food system in the Mission Valley.

“This garden and all the other gardens that we’re working on is some of our efforts to help fulfill the Tribal Council’s food sovereignty initiative they passed several months ago asking all tribal entities to do what they can to help improve the food security on the reservation," SKC Extension Director Virgil Dupuis explained. "He would love to see more family, community, and commercial gardens pop up in the near future.

In other words, the Tribal Council wanted to create a food system where the people were in control of the production and distribution. The food from these community gardens is donated to the food distribution center, elderly homes, and the Boys and Girls Club.

“The people that are in this class right now are feeding hundreds of people that would not otherwise be able to get fresh produce,” Billings stated.

“Twenty-five pounds of golden zucchini, about 15 pounds of green beans, 20 some pounds of cucumbers went over to the senior citizens this week,” McCready detailed.

Those who spend time in the gardens don’t mind getting their hands dirty.

“I never even wear gloves when I’m out here. I feel like when my hands are actually in the dirt and... when I can have my feet in the dirt, you’re grounded and more connected," McCryhew excitedly said.

Those with a green thumb expressed that gardening is also a way to connect with younger generations.

“I love that part of it. Fred [Billings] taught us how to moisture test in the dirt by how the soiled felt in our hands and I went home and taught my grandchildren," shared McCready.

Anyone can take a class, visit, or help out in the gardens.

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